Sound off! Veterans Day is today. What have you done to thank a vet for his or her service?
In our community there are about 5,000 veterans in Taunton, 1,000 in Rehoboth, and about 1,400 in Seekonk. These individuals have served in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, various Central American conflicts, Iraq 1991, the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq 2003, and other unknown and known operations such as the successful mission in Libya.
The importance of their service and character is representative of the residents' value in our community. These men and women who embody what Honor, Courage, and Commitment means are our friends and neighbors. While we may not always agree with the war, that is different than the person who serves in it.
The veterans network in our community is strong and growing. More services are increasingly needed. More veterans-based organizations are beginning to ‘march.’ When a community ‘marches’ for veterans, that community exhibits pride, patriotism and thanks for veterans who marched for them in uniform.
There is the belief that the VA is not there for our returning service men and women. We hear about stories in the media that seemingly confirm this notion. We often hear about the 6,100 killed soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, but what we don’t hear about are the 170,000 cases of PTSD or the 550,000 validated disability claims, according to a 2010 Brown University report. Moreover, 30 percent of all combat veterans have PTSD.
However, veterans are served. Any town or city in the Commonwealth that has more than 12,500 citizens has a full-time veterans service officer. I am in my third term as the appointed Seekonk veterans agent. In the past three years, I have seen my caseload increase by 200 percent, while my budget has only increased by less than 10 percent.
Services that are provided include, but are not limited to, Public Awareness and Outreach teams, which bring services to veterans in each area. Veteran’s Service Officers are tasked with wearing several hats – we are social workers, VA liaisons, workforce readiness agents, we work in conjunction w/state and federal service providers, we are burial officers, and we make home visits and hospital rounds. In short, we take care of those who have taken care of our country and our community.
The work to be done is important but it is not always supported. For example, the Massachusetts legislature passed a bill, which was subsequently vetoed by the governor over pressure from the Massachusetts Veterans Service Officer Association with support from other posts and organizations. This bill would have closed a soldiers home in Holyoke that serviced 2,200 veterans in order to save $500,000.
Clearly, this home is an essential asset to the community and the veterans who are served by it. Had this bill become law, it would have created a hardship for those who have already sacrificed for us, and it would have resulted in additional costs to taxpayers, local, state and non-profit agencies that would have had to pick up some of the burden left by any community veterans home closure.
On this notable observance we must not forget to continue to march for those who once marched for us and with us, but not all who can continue to march today. Take the time to thank a veteran today if you have not already done so, but not just today, any day of the year.
Seth Bai is an Attleboro resident and the Seekonk Veterans Service Officer. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps or nearly a decade and sits on the executive board of the MA Veterans Service Officer Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.